A Pleasant Surprise

Recently when I went for my haircut at the beginning of the year, somehow the discussion with my barber drifted to the topic of wine. My barber told me that his father had bought a commemorative bottle of wine from Italia ’90, and over the Christmas 2017 they had decided to open that bottle to drink. Unfortunately the cork had dried up and the wine had oxidised into vinegar. But he had retained that interesting bottle at his shop as a souvenir of that event.

A few weeks after this, I was rummaging through the kitchen cupboards looking for something, when I stumbled across a small bottle of Bordeaux wine. As the provenance (where the wine came from, life cycle and storage conditions) was not ideal, I was skeptical but curious about what that wine would look like, how it would smell and taste. I told my wife that I would like to have a taste test of this with her, and she was definitely up for it. I moved it into the wine fridge for a few weeks, while we waited for the ideal time to do the taste test.

Now the thing to say is that there are many factors which determine how well a bottle of wine ages/matures:

  1. Temperature – the higher the temperature of storage, the quicker it matures, the lower the temperature the longer it takes to reach the same point of maturity.
  2. Size of bottle – the smaller the bottle the quicker it matures, the larger the bottle the slower it ages (in comparison to a standard 750 ml bottle of wine).
  3. Light – exposure to bright light will adversely affect a bottle of wine, whereas keeping it in a dark environment would be beneficial.
  4. Vibrations – these are said to be detrimental to the wine’s aging process, so the less exposure to vibrations the better.
  5. Wine ageability – most wines are said to be made for drinking within 2 years of being bottled. But the better wines will age for much longer, and develop more complex flavours and aromas after a good period of aging. Also the better the vintage, the more age-worthy the wine is.

The bottle of wine I had found can be considered plonk – Cuvee heritage 2003 from Sichel. I am unsure how it came to us (presumably it was issued during a flight and left unconsumed at our house by a visitor) but it was tucked away in the back of one of the kitchen cupboards all this time.

Bordeaux Cuvee Heritage 2003 from Sichel – now empty but showing significant sediments

Now this bottle of wine was 13 years younger than the bottle that my barber had opened, but it is also a much smaller bottle of wine (187 ml)  which should age 4X faster than his standard bottle.

The things which were in favour of this wine aging well:

  • 2003 was a very good vintage in Bordeaux.
  • It had a Stelvin closure, which means that it will not dry out over time unlike cork.
  • It was tucked away in a dark corner at the back of the cupboard away from light.

The things against it aging well:

  • It is not from one of the top Chateaux from France and hence should not have much aging potential.
  • It was a quarter-size bottle which should age 4X as fast as a standard size bottle of wine.
  • The temperature in the kitchen tends to be higher than what is ideal for keeping wine long-term, which means it should have aged much quicker.
  • There are bound to be vibrations reaching the wine from the cooking activities done in the kitchen.

Now to the important part of this test – the tasting experience of the wine. I have to confess that we were both very pleasantly surprised. Analysing the wine, we found these to be its characters:

  • ColourMedium garnet, which is the expected colour of aged reds (Verdict: passed the colour test).
  • Aromas – There was a smell of leather, some fruit flavours with Chinese herbs coming out over time. Definitely no vinegar smells (Verdict: passed the aroma test).
  • TasteThere still remained some acidity in the wine, tannins were fairly soft. Actually very pleasant to drink. Not up to the standards of the top growths of Bordeaux, but actually much better than I would expect from plonk (Verdict: passed the taste test).

Below is the Stelvin closure of the bottle, which seems to have retained its seal very well.

Stelvin closure from the quarter bottle (1/4 size)

As mentioned before, my wife and I were both pleasantly surprised with the results of this test. We expected to see a tawny/brown colour of an over-matured wine but instead saw a pleasing medium garnet befitting an aged wine. Although it was 15 years old chronologically, it is more like 60 years old in wine years as it should have aged 4x as fast due to its small size.

The aromas and taste was actually very pleasant and very drinkable. This goes to show me that the Stelvin closure is actually a very impressive way to seal and protect wine – a cork under similar circumstances would have degraded and resulted in an undrinkable bottle of wine. My thought was whether the lack of oxygen getting through the Stelvin Closure to the wine has somewhat limited how much aging could take place – to its benefit. I might just find some small bottles of Bordeaux wine from a good vintage (2015, 2016) with Stelvin closures to hide away in my wine cellar as an experiment to see how it tastes in 15, 20, 25, 30 years and more; that would not cost much but be something worth looking forward to in the future.